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More Illuminating Reflections on NERC & Recycling

July 17, 2012

As we recognize NERC's 25thanniversary, we are continuing our series of guest blogs by people who have been influential in NERC's history. Connie Saulter, was NERC's second Executive Director.

Here's what she has to say.

First of all, I would like to say Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in the Northeast Recycling Council since its inception. That NERC is celebrating its 25th Anniversary speaks volumes to a dedicated number of individuals and agencies who maintained a strong vision of the importance of a public/private partnership toward solid waste/recycling initiatives.

When did you first become involved with NERC and how long were you actively involved?

I joined NERC in the fall of 1990, when NERC consisted of just Shelley Dresser [NERC's 1st Executive Director] and me, and we worked from Shelley's home. When I left in the summer of 1995, NERC had real offices in downtown Brattleboro and four full-time staff.

How did you first get involved in NERC?

Chip Foley and I worked together with the CONEG Source Reduction Council back in 1989. Chip first introduced me to Shelley Dresser shortly after I began work with the CONEG. Shelley had set the ball in motion for the creation of NERC while working for the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Office - when I met her; she was also operating NERC out of her home in southern Vermont. That is Shelley's story to tell and I will let her. At some point Shelley mentioned that she had submitted a grant application to EPA with hopes that the grant combined with funding from the member states would allow her to hire staff to further research a number of initiatives she had underway and also be able to obtain office space. EPA awarded her the grant; Shelley offered me a position with NERC, and I was off to Vermont. Well, sort of. First I had to tell my husband we were moving.

Shelley and I continued to work out of her house for the first few months after my arrival in Vermont while looking for a suitable home for NERC. After looking at a number of spaces, we ultimately decided on the space where NERC continues to live all these years. We had a couple of temporary hires early on; eventually we hired Michael Alexander as an intern to work on the newspaper publisher's initiative. He made such an impression we kept him full time. Next we wooed Ellen Pratt away from EPA headquarters (the opportunity to live in Brattleboro, Vermont helped!). Becky Bartlett became our Office Manager. Shelley and I became Co-Directors, and shared management responsibilities.

We had an office, staff, a number of projects, a budget and we were off and running! I really do not remember exact dates but I think sometime in late 1993 or early 1994 Shelley decided she wanted to expand her family and spend more time with them and relinquished her role at NERC. I became the Director of NERC and held that position until I too moved on in the summer of 1995.

What were you doing then and what are you doing now?

In addition to helping to develop NERC, my husband and I bought a farm in Vermont and kept busy restoring the farmhouse, gardening, and learning to snowshoe. Then I had the brilliant notion to start raising Tunis sheep, an endangered breed of domestic sheep – but that's another story.

I'm currently "between shows", which is a cute way of saying I'm retired. Well, sort of. Between the garden, house, dogs, cats, and husband, life is full. We still recycle just about everything we can – does anyone know of a program to recycle plastic garden pots?

What are some of your fondest memories of NERC?

My fondest memories of NERC are of the people involved at every level. I was very fortunate to know and work with some dynamite individuals during those years, people who believed in recycling and protecting the environment and who were willing to share their knowledge.

What do you consider to be NERC's greatest strengths? Greatest achievements?

NERC's greatest strengths were and remain the people that are involved in its programs. What has made NERC so effective over the years is its ability to bring people together to share information on recycling. NERC had State members openly sharing information on how programs were working (or not), private sector representatives being up front on how state regulations were affecting their businesses (the good, the bad, and the costly), and always good big picture guidance from EPA, especially Cynthia Greene who has maintained her strong support all these years. One of NERC's great achievements is the ongoing coordination of pulling all these folks together for meetings, seminars, workshops, conferences and watching all this interaction bear fruit with more interaction, information sharing and coordination between all the players and stakeholders.

What role do you see NERC as having played in the recycling industry?

NERC has served locally and regionally as a clearinghouse for sharing information – a neutral corner, as it were, where federal and state agencies and industry groups can gather to share information, build relationships, and hopefully, develop common goals and create alliances to work together towards those goals.

What are the most pressing issues facing the recycling industry today and in the next five years?

Some might say that recycling has not become mainstream, that it is an accepted part of the lexicon of U.S. business. However, many of the issues we first set out to address remain. In order to be sustainable, recycling has to become more than just "saving the environment" – it has to be shown to be cost-effective. The true life-cycle cost of every product needs to be captured within the price of the product; but as it now stands, for too many industrial and consumer goods, its simply too easy (and too cheap) to throw it away.

What role do you think NERC should play in addressing these issues?

Exactly what it has been doing for the past 25 years – educating government and industry stakeholders on the true costs of waste disposal and working with those groups to develop markets for recycled materials.

Congratulations and Happy 25th Anniversary to the Northeast Recycling Council!

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